Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: Taking Stock and Looking Ahead

December 2014

By Paul F. Walker

Just one year after Syria’s formal accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international body responsible for implementing the treaty, announced this October that almost all of Syria’s declared chemical agents and precursor chemicals had been safely and irreversibly destroyed.[1]

Workers in protective clothing carry a dummy grenade into a bunker during a media day at the GEKA facility in Münster, Germany, on March 5. The liquid waste from the neutralization of Syrian sulfur mustard agent aboard the MV Cape Ray was brought to the GEKA facility last summer for further treatment. (Nigel Treblin/Getty Images)This was an enormously ambitious and difficult effort, especially in light of the ongoing civil war in Syria, the refusal of Syria to cover the costs of demilitarization, the strong reluctance of any other country to destroy the Syrian chemical stockpile on its territory, and the ongoing allegations of continued and indiscriminate chemical weapons use against rebel forces and civilian populations in Syria.

As of October 20, according to the OPCW, almost 98 percent of Syria’s declared stockpile of 1,308 metric tons of sulfur mustard agent and precursor chemicals had been destroyed in four countries and on board the MV Cape Ray, a U.S. Merchant Marine vessel uniquely outfitted in late 2013 to neutralize about half of the stockpile. The success of this disarmament effort, spearheaded by the OPCW and the United Nations in a unique joint mission, represents a historic breakthrough in establishing a world free of chemical weapons, in strengthening the CWC and the OPCW, and in building momentum toward accession to the treaty by Egypt and Israel, the two remaining nonmembers in the Middle East.

Demilitarization in Syria
Egypt, Israel and Syria had long been suspected of harboring chemical weapons stockpiles. Their reluctance to join the CWC stems from the linkage politics in the Middle East, identifying chemical weapons as a possible deterrent to Israel’s nuclear arsenal. The violence of the civil war that has engulfed Syria since 2011 brought attention to the potential use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government or by rebel forces taking over Syrian military sites.

Reports of attacks in Syria allegedly involving chemical weapons began in December 2012 and continued through the summer of 2013. The final report of the review conference for the CWC in April 2013 noted the parties’ “deep concern that chemical weapons may have been used in the Syrian Arab Republic and underlined that use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances would be reprehensible and completely contrary to the legal norms and standards of the international community.”[2]

Yet, the issue of chemical weapons use did not seize world attention until August 21, 2013, when a massive, nighttime attack on civilians took place in a rebel-held area, Ghouta, just east of Damascus, with the nerve agent sarin. Early reports by rebel forces described the deaths of some 1,400 people, including several hundred children, overcome by clouds of yellowish vapor in the middle of the night. Pictures of victims showed frothing at the mouth and suffocation, with none of the visible bullet or shrapnel wounds that one would expect from typical aerial or artillery bombardment.

The UN, at the request of the Syrian government, had dispatched a team of experts to Damascus on August 18 to investigate prior allegations of chemical weapons use. The UN team, led by Åke Sellström of Sweden, included nine OPCW experts and three from the World Health Organization (WHO). After the August 21 attack, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon requested that the team change plans to investigate that attack.

The Sellström team’s September 13 report confirmed that “chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic, also against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale.”[3] The following day, Syria deposited its instrument of accession to the CWC with the UN. Largely the result of Russian political intervention with Syria, this disarmament step precluded a threatened U.S. military strike against Syria’s chemical weapons program, made Syria the 190th state-party to the CWC, and set in motion the efforts to safely destroy Syria’s chemical stockpile. On September 17, Russia and the United States announced a framework agreement for elimination of Syria’s chemical arsenal.[4]

The OPCW Executive Council issued a decision on September 27 noting that the treaty would enter into force for Syria on October 14 and calling for a full declaration of Syria’s chemical weapons program, including all weapons, agents, chemicals, laboratories, production plants, and storage facilities as required by Article III of the CWC. In addition, the council required that all mixing and filling equipment, used to fill delivery systems with chemical agents just before launch, be destroyed by November 1 and that “all chemical weapons material and equipment [be destroyed] in the first half of 2014.” It also stipulated that OPCW inspections would begin by October 1, 2013.[5]

Hours after the Executive Council decision, the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2118, endorsing the OPCW plan.

The very ambitious schedule, based largely on the bilateral U.S.-Russian framework agreement, would require expedited transport and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, far faster than any other declared stockpile had been eliminated to date. The first planning decision by the OPCW made in the fall of 2013 was that it would be too risky to set up a destruction facility in Syria in the middle of an ongoing, very violent conflict.

Throughout the OPCW’s 5,500 inspections at 265 chemical weapons-related facilities and more than 2,000 industrial sites in 86 countries, its inspectors had never had to face armed enemies. Syria, however, presented a different situation. The OPCW’s early inspections of Ghouta and other areas demonstrated that its inspectors would likely come under live fire. After August 2013, all inspectors were fitted with bulletproof vests for the first time in the OPCW’s 16-year history.[6]

All declared chemical weapons stockpiles until 2013 had been destroyed within the possessor country, usually very close to the existing storage facilities. The CWC, under Article III and the Verification Annex, assumes that destruction will take place within the possessor country. In the case of Syria, it was decided, for reasons of safety and security, that the chemicals themselves should be removed from Syria and destroyed in a foreign country. The OPCW, UN, and United States proceeded to inquire if any Mediterranean or European countries might be willing to receive the chemicals and have them destroyed on their territory.

No country responded positively to this request. Most of them cited environmental and regulatory requirements that would inhibit meeting the tight timeline established by the OPCW and the framework agreement. Eventually, Finland, Germany, and the United Kingdom declared their willingness to accept limited amounts of precursor chemicals and the larger volume of toxic effluent from first-stage neutralization.

Albania had been proposed as a possible recipient country, perhaps primarily because it had destroyed 15 metric tons of declared mustard agent during 2006 and 2007, but Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama in mid-November 2013 flatly rejected all requests to destroy Syrian chemicals on its territory. News reports cited ongoing frustration by the Albanian government with the failure to clean up toxic waste still remaining from the mustard incineration effort, which Germany, the United States, and other countries had supported.

In December 2012, during the first alleged uses of chemical agents in the Syrian conflict, the U.S. Department of Defense had begun investigating options for destroying chemical stockpiles abroad, long before there was much public discussion about Syria’s chemical arsenal. The chemicals held in the Syrian stockpile were sulfur mustard agent (HD), sarin nerve agent (GB), and precursor chemicals such as methylphosphonyl diflouride (DF), the specific targets of the new U.S. technology development effort. By early February 2013, the Defense Department had committed funding to developing semi-mobile platforms for the neutralization of such agents and chemicals in remote areas. Four months later, in June, the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Aberdeen, Maryland, conducted a prototype demonstration.

In light of the political progress made with Syria’s decision to join the CWC and the lack of progress made with European countries in persuading them to accept Syrian chemicals, the United States sent a team to Baltimore  and Portsmouth, Virginia in September 2013 to consider U.S. ships for possible sea deployment of a neutralization facility, something never done previously. The MV Cape Ray, an older roll-on/roll-off freighter, was chosen in November 2013 as a suitable platform for utilizing the new Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, a neutralization unit developed at the Edgewood facility.

The fitting of two of these hydrolysis units aboard the Cape Ray began in Portsmouth on December 2 and was completed six weeks later. After sea trials, the ship departed on January 27, 2014, for the U.S. Navy base in Rota, Spain, where it remained until the last chemicals left Syria. The ship also carried a third hydrolysis unit for spare parts.

Each of these unique chemical hydrolysis systems was designed to fit on two large flatbed trucks for ease of transportation and deployment. Back at Aberdeen, Maryland, the plan was to produce another three hydrolysis units for future use. These systems all reused titanium-lined mixing tanks that had been part of the neutralization process for the 1,471 metric tons of bulk mustard agent from the U.S. chemical stockpile at Aberdeen from 2003 to 2005.

The OPCW-approved plan for destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile involved transporting all chemicals from more than 20 sites to the port of Latakia in northwestern Syria and transferring them to two freighters, the Ark Futura from Denmark and the Taiko from Norway. Once the ships had received all of Syria’s declared chemicals, they would deliver the more dangerous (“Priority 1”) chemicals, mustard and DF, to the Cape Ray for onboard neutralization in the Mediterranean Sea and the less dangerous (“Priority 2”) precursor chemicals to land-based incinerators in Finland, the UK, and the United States. The original deadline for completing the shipments out of Syria was February 5, 2014, but this process required another five months due to concerns expressed by the Syrian government over security along the land-based shipment routes.

The first shipment of chemicals left Latakia on January 7. After several new deadlines were also missed, the 19th and final shipment, about 100 metric tons, of declared chemicals left Latakia on June 23 aboard the Ark Futura. The Taiko had departed Latakia in early June and delivered 130 metric tons of precursor chemicals to the port of Hamina Kotka in Finland, to be incinerated by the company Ekokem, in the town of Riihimaki, just north of Helsinki. The ship then sailed to Port Arthur, Texas, with several hundred tons of precursor chemicals to be incinerated at a Veolia Environmental Services facility just outside Houston.[7]

ashar Jaafari, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, speaks to the media about Syrian chemical weapons outside the Security Council chamber on September 12, 2013, two days before Syria deposited its instrument of accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention with the UN. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)With all declared chemicals out of Syria, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü praised the “extraordinary international cooperation” involved in the effort and reiterated that “never before has an entire arsenal of a category of weapons of mass destruction been removed from a country experiencing a state of internal armed conflict.” In a June 23 statement, he said that although a “major chapter” in his organization’s effort was closing, the “OPCW’s work in Syria will continue.”[8] This last phrase was a reference to the continued discussions with Syria about destruction of declared production and storage facilities, apparent discrepancies in the country’s declaration of its stockpile to the OPCW, and alleged attacks during the Syrian civil war with chlorine, a dual-use chemical not banned by the CWC but prohibited in warfare.

Destruction at Sea
Because the Cape Ray was never allowed into Syrian territorial waters, it needed a Mediterranean port where it could receive the 600 metric tons of mustard agent and sarin precursor from the Ark Futura. After some extended negotiations, the port of Gioia Tauro in southwestern Italy agreed to receive the two ships, and the transfer took place without incident over a half day spanning July 1-2. The Ark Futura sailed to the UK and off-loaded some 150 metric tons of other Priority 1 chemicals to be destroyed at a Veolia Environmental Services incinerator at Ellesmere and at a second company, Mexichem UK Limited.

On July 7, the Cape Ray began neutralizing 19.8 metric tons of sulfur mustard and 581 metric tons of DF in the two hydrolysis units, operating eventually 24 hours a day, six days a week at sea, with a seventh day set aside for maintenance and repair.[9] Original schedule projections indicated that the job would require 60 to 90 days. Those projections assumed that the units would be down for 40 percent of the time due to high seas and bad weather. This would calculate to a throughput rate of 11 to 17 metric tons per operating day of Syrian chemicals. Fortunately, the weather remained very good and the seas very low, allowing the hydrolysis process to finish on August 17, after just 42 days of operations. This indicates an average throughput rate of more than 14 metric tons per day, right in the middle of the range of original projections, but without any unplanned operating downtime.

Operations aboard the ship went very well, with no major incidents. A few minor mishaps took place—a small fire in the kitchen, which was extinguished quickly; a minor leak of reagent, which never escaped the protective enclosure for the hydrolysis system and was easily cleaned up; and a few minor bumps and bruises, as well as dehydration, for the crew. The whole at-sea operation, which raised many concerns around the Mediterranean, appears to have fully met the requirements of the CWC, which states that “during transportation, sampling, storage and destruction of chemical weapons, [each state-party] shall assign the highest priority to ensuring the safety of people and to protecting the environment.”[10]

During the spring of 2014, large citizen demonstrations with more than 10,000 protesters had taken place in Athens, Istanbul, and Cyprus, and a flotilla of boats sought to demonstrate in July. Üzümcü wrote a formal response to a June 2014 letter from the Pancretan Commission Against the Destruction of Syrian Chemical Weapons in the Enclosed Sea of the Mediterranean. He reassured the signers that “the safety of people and protecting the environment has been one of the foremost considerations in all activities relating to the transportation and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons” and that “[a]ll of these activities…have occurred in accordance with international and national regulations, and without mishap.”[11]

After six weeks in the Mediterranean, the Cape Ray delivered its neutralized sulfur mustard effluent, no longer a chemical weapon but still quite toxic and about 15 times its original volume, to Bremerhaven, Germany. The company GEKA, located outside Hamburg, known for handling military weapons and waste, would receive the 350 to 400 metric tons of waste and burn the material in its incinerator.[12] The ship then sailed to Finland and off-loaded the neutralized DF effluent, about 6,000 metric tons, to be burned at the Ekokem facility.

The Cape Ray returned to Virginia in mid-September. The two hydrolysis units are currently being cleaned and dismantled for possible use elsewhere.

As of October 20, 100 percent (1,047 metric tons) of “Category 1” chemicals and 89 percent (232 metric tons) of “Category 2” chemicals had been destroyed, a total of 98 percent safely eliminated in less than a year of demilitarization operations. The remainder, about 29 metric tons, will be destroyed in the next few months, along with some 6,000 metric tons of toxic effluent.

Click image to enlarge.

Impact and Lessons
The Syrian chemical weapons destruction process in 2013 and 2014 has been a remarkable example of successful multilateral disarmament operations in the middle of a costly and dangerous civil war. It has removed not only the threat of mass-casualty attacks with deadly nerve agents against soldiers and civilians in the Syrian civil war, but also the threat of chemical weapons use against neighboring countries. Furthermore, it has set a precedent for Egypt and Israel, the other two suspected chemical weapons possessor states in the region, to join the near-universal CWC. The complete abolition of chemical weapons in the Middle East will be an important confidence-building measure for negotiations on a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the region, as proposed by the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

In addition to the political momentum generated for further disarmament efforts focusing on nonconventional weapons in the Middle East, several other important related issues and goals should be noted.

Strengthening the OPCW. With a 500-person staff and a budget of about $88 million, the OPCW, which is based in The Hague, remains much smaller than many of its counterparts in Geneva and Vienna.[13] Yet, it has successfully facilitated and verified the safe elimination of more than 62,000 metric tons of deadly chemicals from millions of weapons at hundreds of sites across the globe. With Syria, which had been one of the last seven nonmember countries, suddenly acceding to the CWC in 2013, momentum has quickened toward “universality”—complete global membership—for the abolition regime. This will not only help prevent the re-emergence of chemical weapons, but will also provide encouragement to the Biological Weapons Convention, with 170 states-parties, and the NPT for abolishing the remaining two classes of nonconventional weapons.

The Chemical Weapons Convention

After more than a dozen years of negotiations, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) was opened for signature in January 1993, with 158 countries signing the treaty in the first year. By July 1997, just three months after its entry into force, 98 countries had ratified the CWC. The two largest possessor countries, Russia and the United States, ratified the CWC on November 5, 1997, and April 25, 1997, respectively.1

The CWC is unique as an arms control and disarmament treaty in that it bans the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer, or use of chemical weapons by all states-parties. It establishes an international verification and inspection regime for declared stockpiles and the chemical industry, and it requires all declared chemical weapons, as well as facilities and laboratories related to chemical weapons production, to be safely destroyed within certain deadlines.2 Therefore, it differs from the Biological Weapons Convention by establishing a strict verification regime and from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty by crafting a nondiscriminatory regime, one in which all member countries abide by the same rules requiring verified abolition of chemical weapons programs.

Syrian accession to the CWC in September 2013 expanded the membership to 190 countries, leaving just six—Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, and South Sudan—outside the treaty. At least two areas of the world, Taiwan and the Palestinian territories, are not yet covered by the CWC due to their unique political situations and lack of UN membership. Taiwan in particular, with a large chemicals industry, will be important to bring under verification in the near future.

Eight countries have declared chemical weapons stockpiles to date: Albania, India, Iraq, Libya, Russia, South Korea, Syria, and the United States, with Russia and the United States accounting for 95 percent of the declared chemical agent tonnage.3
  The implementing body for the CWC is the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), an entity created by the treaty. In the more than 17 years that the CWC has been in force, the OPCW has overseen and verified the safe destruction of 85 percent of the world’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles. This means that more than 62,000 metric tons of deadly chemical agents and millions of weapons (landmines, bombs, rockets, spray tanks, missile warheads, and artillery shells) in seven countries have been destroyed, an enormous step forward in improving global security.

Russia still has 8,000 metric tons of chemical weapons to destroy, and the United States has 2,800 metric tons. Libya has about 850 metric tons of precursor chemicals. Iraq continues to have an unknown quantity of chemical agents and precursor chemicals left in two large bunkers at the site in Fallujah known as al Muthanna. Sealed in the mid-1990s by UN inspectors, these bunkers were reportedly captured by the Islamic State militant group in June 2014. According to recent reports, the group might have used chemical weapons in the siege of Kobani in the Kurdish area of northern Syria.4


1. For an excellent history of the long negotiations on the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), see Daniel Feakes and Ian Kenyon, eds., The Creation of OPCW: A Case Study in the Birth of an Intergovernmental Organization (The Hague: TMC Asser Press, 2007).

2. For the text of the CWC, see

3. For a history of chemical weapons destruction, see Paul F. Walker, “Abolishing Chemical Weapons: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities,” Arms Control Today, November 2010.

4. Joseph Cirincione and Paul Walker, “Is ISIS Using Chemical Weapons?” Defense One, October 14, 2014,

    None of this will happen automatically. In order to bring the remaining six countries (see box) into the treaty regime, there must be a determined effort by the OPCW, CWC states-parties, the UN, and civil society to press these countries to join the CWC and other arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation regimes. Countries that acceded to the CWC in recent years, such as the Bahamas in 2009, required direct visits by high-ranking OPCW officials and technical support with convention declarations and national implementation. Although the OPCW has specific plans for promoting universality, national legislation, and assistance and cooperation, the states-parties need to take an active role in persuading countries to join. The CWC Coalition, an active network of some 150 nongovernmental experts and organizations across the globe, should actively work with civil society in these nonmember countries to build a public discussion about their lack of membership.[14]

    There needs to be careful reconsideration by states-parties of the OPCW annual budget, which has fallen from a peak of more than $100 million annually during the 2007-2011 period to a low of less than $93 million projected for 2015. This decline has forced reductions in the size, seniority, and experience of the organization’s staff. The costs for OPCW inspections and verification for 2013 and 2014 in Syria alone, not projected in the earlier budget plans, were $5.5 million; these funds were fortunately raised through a special voluntary fund.

    Multilateralizing disarmament. The role of the OPCW is to implement the CWC and verify stockpile destruction; there is very little it can do to enforce the regime other than refer violations to the UN. The joint efforts among the OPCW, the UN, and the WHO to investigate the alleged use of chemical agents in the Syrian civil war and to remove Syrian chemicals from the country were very successful. This OPCW-UN joint mission, headed by Dutch diplomat Sigrid Kaag, worked out very well. There were some issues of miscommunication and competing leadership early in the operation, but in the end, this multiagency effort demonstrated that large, multilateral bureaucracies can indeed work well together.

    This joint mission also underlined the importance of UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which establishes legally binding obligations on all states under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and their means of delivery to other countries and nonstate actors. The UN must press this national obligation on CWC nonmembers.[15]

    Building transparency. Early in the Syrian chemical demilitarization operations, very little information was made available to the public and interested nongovernmental stakeholders. This led to unnecessary suspicions about what was actually happening to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile and what risks might arise, especially for Mediterranean countries. Syria had reportedly requested confidentiality from the OPCW regarding its declaration and stockpile figures, and other countries were very sensitive about their role in the operation. For example, Italy did not reveal until mid-January that Gioia Tauro would be used for the transfer of Syrian chemicals from the Ark Futura to the Cape Ray. The mayor of Gioia Tauro complained at the time that the national government had not informed him of the decision, that he and his colleagues had “received no official information,” and that they were “stumbling around in the dark.” He also warned that they would “pursue all legal means” to prevent the port operation.[16]

    Eventually, the OPCW decided to post summary figures of the Syrian declared stockpile and to update destruction figures monthly on the OPCW website. This latter effort helped alleviate some public anxiety and build confidence in the process.

    Engaging stakeholders. Quiet and productive international discussions had been continuing since at least 2011 at governmental and nongovernmental levels to prevent the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict, to prevent a foreign military attack on Syria, and to bring Syria into the CWC. Once Syria acceded to the CWC, the process of the country’s declaration, the required on-site inspections, and the demilitarization plans were closed to public scrutiny. By late 2013, it became known that Syria’s chemicals would be shipped out of country and half of the exported tonnage would be destroyed at sea. Public protests began to mount in Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Turkey, and elsewhere, and national governments demanded to be more informed about the process.

    On February 3, 2014, a dozen chemical demilitarization experts, including this author, from the nongovernmental sector wrote to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel suggesting a more robust public outreach effort, including several “national dialogues” in the Mediterranean region and real-time updates from the Cape Ray while it was operating in the sea. This letter also was sent to officials such as Kaag, Üzümcü, and Angela Kane, head of the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs. The letter stated that “[e]ngaging potentially impacted communities in a timely and transparent way will not only strengthen the protection of public health and the environment, but it will help alleviate public concerns that could otherwise undermine this historic and important demilitarization mission.”[17] There was no reply to this letter.

    Although the State Department organized several invitation-only, off-the-record discussions for Washington-based stakeholders and the OPCW organized two invitation-only conference calls for a select group of European nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the public outreach effort was never sufficient to satisfy concerned organizations and citizens, especially those in the Mediterranean region most likely to be affected by any accidents. The Defense Department organized an “open house” for media and NGOs on the Cape Ray while it was docked in Rota, Spain for more than three months prior to the destruction efforts, but this was done on a last-minute basis with no travel support and failed to attract NGOs.[18]

    The failure to produce an integrated plan to inform and involve the public was partly due to the multilateral process, with many senior players pointing the finger of responsibility at other colleagues, but it clearly undermined public confidence in the demilitarization plan. The ambitious schedule also caused national and multilateral bureaucracies to shortcut public outreach efforts. Nevertheless, the many delays in the process of removing the chemicals from Syria provided opportunities for much more coordinated outreach and public information if the responsible officials had been inclined to take advantage of those opportunities. Such action would have reduced the mistrust with which the public and governments approached the removal and destruction operations.

    Financing demilitarization. Syria made it known very early in the process that it could not afford to pay the costs of its demilitarization plan. It covered some of the costs for aspects such as land-based transportation, security, and facility destruction, but would not pay for out-of-country chemical destruction or for the verification work by the OPCW, although the CWC requires state-parties that possess chemical weapons to pay these costs.[19]

    Fortunately, some three dozen countries made financial or in-kind contributions or both to support the disarmament operations and inspections. Üzümcü reported to the OPCW Executive Council in early October that the trust fund established for that purpose had received almost $65 million from 24 states-parties and the European Union.[20] In addition, U.S. operations aboard the Cape Ray, the use of Danish and Norwegian freighters, and the convoy that provided security for the three ships must have totaled several hundred million dollars. Although at least three countries—India, South Korea, and the United States—have covered their chemical weapons demilitarization costs, another three—Albania, Libya, and Russia—have relied on outside funding to cover at least part of their costs. This may argue for an ongoing OPCW trust fund for operations to be used in cases of demilitarization, challenge inspections, and other urgent tasks.[21]

    Inspecting demilitarization. The OPCW has been under pressure from states-parties, especially the major bill payers such as the United States, to reduce its annual budget for the last several years. This had led to major staffing reductions in the inspectorate from about 175 inspectors to fewer than 125, with much less experience. When the Syrian operation arose in 2013, the OPCW had to scramble to rehire some 50 inspectors, many of them having been out of the job for several years. These returning inspectors substituted for the many active OPCW inspectors needed for the Syrian teams. In the end, this worked out well, but it raises questions about the future size of the OPCW inspectorate and how best to ensure readiness to carry out urgent missions in a timely way.[22]

    The OPCW and the CWC states-parties should reconsider the current plans for the standing size of the OPCW inspectorate, which would be available for demilitarization operations and industry inspections. Chemical industry inspections are becoming much more important as the OPCW seeks to prevent the re-emergence of chemical weapons and to promote peaceful uses of chemistry. The OPCW should consider developing an ongoing active-reserve inspectorate that would be on call for urgent and unpredictable operations such as the one in Syria. Funding for such a reserve force should be part of the budget reconsideration discussed above.

    After a year of active and ongoing demilitarization operations, with almost all of Syria’s declared chemicals destroyed, the UN, the OPCW, and contributing countries can declare a large if not yet total success. Syria has recently revealed at least two new canisters of sarin discovered in “rebel-held territory” and four additional facilities related to chemical weapons—three research and development facilities and one production site for ricin. In addition, there have been new allegations of attacks with chlorine on rebel forces in Syria.[23] These issues demonstrate that the demilitarization process is not yet finished and that the OPCW must continue its inspections and fact-finding missions. Moreover, this multilateral disarmament effort has not put a stop to the ongoing and widespread violence in Syria.

    Yet, the laudable and costly efforts to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons program over the past year have demonstrated that the world is very close to eliminating an entire class of weapons of mass destruction from the globe. This alone is a very worthy step forward in global security and most appropriate as the world approaches the 100th anniversary of the first massive use of chemical weapons in warfare.

    Paul F. Walker is director of environmental security and sustainability with Green Cross International. He holds a Ph.D. in international security studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is a former professional staff member for the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee. He was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 2013 for his work to press for the elimination of chemical weapons. He serves on the Arms Control Association Board of Directors.


    1. Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), “Syrian Chemical Destruction Data,” October 20, 2014,

    2. OPCW Conference of the States Parties, “Report of the Third Special Session of the Conference of the States Parties to Review the Operation of the Chemical Weapons Convention,” RC-3/3, April 19, 2013.

    3. UN General Assembly and UN Security Council, “Report of the United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic on the Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in the Ghouta Area of Damascus on 21 August 2013,” A/67/997-S/2013/553, September 16, 2013. See OPCW, “UN Investigation Team Returns to The Hague From Syria,” September 2, 2013,

    4. OPCW, “Joint National Paper by the Russian Federation and the United States of America: Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons,” EC-M-33/NAT.1, September 17, 2013.

    5. OPCW, “Decision: Destruction of Syrian Chemical Weapons,” EC-M-33/DEC.1, September 27, 2013.

    6. OPCW, “OPCW Director-General Condemns Attack on UN Inspection Team,” August 26, 2013,

    7. For a weekly blog on the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons, see Green Cross International,

    8. OPCW, “Announcement to Media on Last Consignment of Chemicals Leaving Syria,” June 23, 2014,

    9. See Daniel Horner, “Syrian Chemicals Destroyed on U.S. Ship,” Arms Control Today, September 2014.

    10. Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), art. IV, para. 10.

    11. Ahmet Üzümcü, Letter to the Pancretan Commission Against the Destruction of Syrian Chemical Weapons in the Enclosed Sea of the Mediterranean, L/ODG/192695/14, July 29, 2014.

    12. See Annette Langer, “Kampfstoff-Entsorgung: Syrische Chemiewaffen in der Heide,” Der Spiegel, April 9, 2014,

    13. For the latest OPCW financial report, see OPCW, “Financial Statements of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and Report of the External Auditor for the Year Ending 31 December 2013,” EC-77/DG.1, July 14, 2014; OPCW, “Draft Decision: Draft Program and Budget of the OPCW for 2015,” EC-77/DEC/CRP.7, October 2, 2014.

    14. The author is the coordinator of this coalition, which held a roundtable in Tel Aviv and met with Israeli parliamentarians in November 2014.

    15. See Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, U.S. Department of State, “United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540,” n.d.,

    16. Lizzy Davies, “Italian Mayor Dismayed as Port Chosen for Syrian Chemical Weapons Transfer,” The Guardian, January 16, 2014,

    17. For the text of the letter, see Green Cross International, “Public Outreach and Stakeholder Involvement in Destruction of Syrian Chemical Weapons,” February 4, 2014,

    18. The open house produced several stories in the press. For example, see Frank Gardner, “Syria Chemical Weapons: Time Running Out for Destruction,” BBC, April 10, 2014,

    19. Paragraph 16 of CWC Article IV specifically states: “Each State Party shall meet the costs of destruction of chemical weapons it is obliged to destroy.”

    20. OPCW, “Note by the Director-General: Progress in the Elimination of the Syrian Chemical Weapons Program,” EC-77/DG.22, September 24, 2014, para. 14.

    21. For example, Libya is now asking for the financial and technical support of the OPCW and CWC states-parties to remove and destroy its remaining precursor chemicals.

    22. In a recent interview, Üzümcü said that the number of inspectors would be further reduced to “90 or so.” See Jean Pascal Zanders, “Üzümcü: ‘After Syria I Do Not See Any Country Able to Use Chemical Weapons Anymore,’” The Trench, November 17, 2014,

    23. See OPCW, “Update on Syrian Chemical Weapons and the Fact-Finding Mission Into Alleged Chlorine Gas Attack,” May 22, 2014,